Effective Planning for Big Projects

April 23, 2008

First a disclaimer: I don’t claim to be the world’s expert on project management, and I urge anyone who is involved in or interested in project management to seek good sources of information and study, as this is a profession requiring a lot of skill and knowledge to do well. That said, I believe my decades of experience (planning projects up to 4 years in length and over $1 billion in cost) gives me some basis to write this. You may notice that I tend to focus more on the timing aspects of large scale plans. I am not ignoring the financial side of the discipline, but not stressing it either, because I have usually had a parallel financial planning effort, run by accountants and financial experts, to lean on. You may also notice that I am trying to address the realities, the impact of human nature, on the work. That said, be aware that good planning requires a focus on all three major components of business processes and projects: time, cost, and quality. I have summarized with a list of suggestions at the end, and hope you find this entry helpful.

A good plan both models the project and communicates it to the stakeholders. In business there is always a need to plan, and it takes project management skills and savvy to develop effective plans with manageable amounts of detail. The basic purpose of the plan, besides modeling the process in time and guiding execution, is to communicate the plan to the stakeholders, a group that goes beyond those who must execute it. The plan also gives a traceability to the project, documenting its history as it helps the project team react to problems and delays that will crop up. If your plan becomes too detailed you may not be able to keep up with the status of the many events. As you read on, I will include descriptions (in italics) of a plan I recently received that violates a lot of the guidelines I describe here, and I will describe some of the problems it imposes on the planner, the readers, and the organization as a result. Read the rest of this entry »